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Real Talk With Real Moms: Preschool

March 17, 2017
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I was your worst nightmare.

When it came to preschool hunting, I was that insane mother touring campuses with a 5-month-old at home and an excel spreadsheet to track every communication, every remark, every philosophy and every important deadline for more than a dozen of Los Angeles’ finest early childhood programs. I joined four different “parent and me” classes, sent handwritten notes to directors and even did a consultation with a known Los Angeles “preschool guru.” (Yes, that’s apparently a thing.)

Fortunately for most, this sort of erratic behavior is only common in cities like Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco where the admissions process for three-year-olds (or should I say “2.9-year-olds by September 1st of the corresponding school year”) is tantamount to most four-year colleges and universities.

As a first time mom, I felt wildly unprepared for the actual care-taking of a newborn. My background was in journalism, where hunting down stories, working under intense deadlines and relentlessly networking was how I got the job done. Needless to say, when I heard about the ultra-competitive L.A. preschool process, I figured that was where I could make up for my many shortcomings when it came to the more “maternal” aspects of motherhood.

Ultimately, I just wanted to do what was best for my daughter and since I had a hard time transitioning into motherhood, I decided to focus on the things within my control—like finding a preschool that could provide a strong, positive foundation as she grew into a little person.

So…I drank the preschool Kool-Aid and as many of my mama friends can attest, I got totally caught up in the rat race.

Leslie Bruce

@leslieannbruce

What’s worse? Most preschool administrators—save for a few wonderful, compassionate directors—had no problem fanning the flames of parental anxiety with terms like: “waitlist, sibling priority, date of application.” I feverishly filled out applications and handed over checks to just about every school I visited. On top of being an expensive ordeal, it also became incredibly time consuming.

Of course, there were a handful of moms who had walked this path before and had assured me that every child ends up where he or she belongs, and that there were more good schools than children to fill them.

While I really wanted to believe the sentiment, I couldn’t rely on hope. Instead, I chose to sell my soul left and right just for the possibility of paying between $15,000 and $20,000 for my child to go to preschool for four hours, three to five days a week. (Unless it was a co-op in which case, it was more like $11,000, but that also required me to have a “school-appointed job and weekly campus possibilities.”)

After 18 long months of emails, toddler groups, interviews and tours, we had submitted applications to our “top choice” preschools. There was a sense of relief when the deadlines came and went, because now the decision was out of my hands. I had done everything I could to “set her up for success,” and all I could do now was wait…and drink.

Leslie Bruce

And that’s when my world got flipped upside down. In January 2017, just weeks before preschool acceptance letters went out and just nine months before the start of school, we moved. It was sudden and rather unexpected, but our family had decided to relocate about 60 miles south of Los Angeles to Laguna Beach.

“Now what?” I asked my husband when it came to the topic of preschool. We would be starting from scratch in a new city where waitlists and application dates didn’t really seem to matter. How could I ever feel confident about sending my daughter to a school that didn’t have a waitlist? Who was the architect behind their on-campus play structure? What? They didn’t have one? It was a pre-fabricated playground?! Gasp! (For the record, L.A. likes the term “structure” because certain schools want the students to decide what it is for themselves and not have the teachers “define it” for them. Yep, you read that right.)

To add insult to injury, in early February, we received acceptance letters to two of our favorite programs. It was both exhilarating and soul crushing. I let the “Welcome” email to our first choice school sit in my inbox for three days before I mustered up the courage to write the lovely director a note telling her we had moved. It was the hardest break-up of my life, and I’m being completely genuine. I not only invested my time and money into finding the best program for my child, I also invested my heart. For me, it was a real accomplishment. I set out to find a wonderful school where my daughter could grow, learn and discover…and I had! I did it! It was an incredible school where I knew should would feel safe, comfortable and happy…but she’d never have the chance to actually go and experience it all.

Leslie Bruce

Begrudgingly, I began the process of looking at preschools all over again in our new town…only this time I didn’t have the luxury of time. In fact, I appeared to be the last-minute parent rushing around touring preschools mere days before applications were due (or sometimes already past deadline). I felt rushed, disorganized and once again, like I was somehow letting my daughter down.

And you know what I found? Some really remarkable programs that I knew would be a wonderful place for my daughter. There wasn’t the pressure of “who do you know” and “how early did you apply”; it was a process where I met with teachers and visited schools, and decided what would be the best fit for my two and half year old. Back in 2015, I had no clue about what my then 5-month-old would need from a school…but I did know exactly where my toddler would thrive.

Ultimately, my husband and I decided on a lovely school with a huge outdoor garden, and even a few farm animals. While the administrators can’t promise me that she will one day matriculate to Yale and become the CEO of a Fortune 500, they can guarantee that they will care for my daughter, nurture her and treat her with respect and love. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

And back in LA? Literally every single one of my mama friends—both the early birds and the late to the party applicants—were accepted into a preschool program where their children will be happy, healthy and safe. It appeared that all the fear, pressure and anxiety that had been created around the preschool bubble were for naught.

A few weeks after acceptances went out, we even received a handful of calls from some of the self-proclaimed “ultra competitive” preschools that I had been terrified into submitting an application to while on tour (in 2015!). Figuring we never had a shot, I never followed up and hadn’t even thought to alert them of our move—and now they were calling to offer my daughter a spot. I mean…it really was all smoke and mirrors.

With that said, would I do anything different knowing what I know now? I’m sure, but even with the crazy rat race of it all, I was just doing, like many of you, what I thought was best for my child.

Leslie Bruce

Sending our children off to preschool for the very first time is a big deal; we are releasing these beautiful little people into the world and charging someone else with the responsibility of their care. And I actually think it’s okay to be thorough and thoughtful about the process, but would have perhaps tried a little harder to keep everything in perspective. I mean, it’s preschool after all.  What I learned through it all is that the best place for my child may not look like the inside of a restoration hardware catalog, and maybe doesn’t guarantee that she’ll be a doctor, but rather offers them a safe, loving place to be children under the care of teachers who really feel passionate about what they do.

With all that behind me, I can finally relax about the whole preschool ordeal and take a minute to enjoy our new town. After all, I won’t be looking into colleges for the 2032-2033 school year for at least another few months.

 

Be sure to check out other childcare stories from other real moms: Alex || Jen || Caitlin || Catherine || Leah || Rebecca || Natalie

Motherhood

Thinking Of Adopting? 6 Helpful Steps to Get Started

March 2, 2017
adoption

Thank goodness for people like heymama member Jackie Cohen. Her honesty is refreshing, and her candid account of her journey to starting a family is helpful to say the least. We first chatted with Jackie late last year about her process From Infertility to Family, but with a major fundraiser for HelpUsAdopt.org, an organization that she is hugely involved with on the horizon, we wanted to find out precisely how she got the whole process started. If you are curious about adoption but don’t know the first thing about it, Jackie has gathered some helpful advice that will get you started. Read on…

For most, the process of adoption starts well before they actually decide to adopt, they just don’t know it yet. I didn’t. From my experience, the journey to motherhood and subsequent process of adoption, actually started with my struggle to have a baby. I think most people envision getting pregnant and carrying their own baby, and even if you struggle to conceive, with today’s technology there are so many options available to assist with fertility, that everyone assumes, “I can totally make a baby!” The reality is however, regardless of budget, or desire to conceive, sometimes, as badly as you might want it, there aren’t enough drugs or money to help you have a baby.

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Jake, Whitney & Elliot, via helpusadopt.org

Without my fertility struggles however, I don’t think I would have adopted and I wouldn’t be where I am today. I love that I have become a voice for adoption, and am filled with a passion to share my story to help others build their families in the same way. Unfortunately, there are still some fears and stigmas attached to the process, and I hope that my experience can help. My little girl turned out to be an angel and there are others out there too. Here are the steps I took to get the process started:

  1. Find an Adoption Attorney. I did a private adoption, which is managed through a lawyer. He/she will outline everything you need to know about domestic adoption. There is a lot of paperwork to prepare and each family applying to adopt has to be cleared by the state, finger printed, and interviewed by a social worker.  They will guide you through the forms to fill out, books to read, papers to write and home visits to conduct. 
  2. The Birth Mother. What I learned during this process, is that Birth Mother (BM) generally picks a family based on what they believe is the perfect family that she (or they, if the birth dad is involved) can’t provide for the child. So, being single, and Jewish, could potentially work against me. I was lucky, it didn’t.
  3. Communication. I also learned that the means of communication is old school. You
    place ads in local papers in the classifieds, that says you are seeking a baby and direct people to contact you through a phone number that goes to a voicemail where they can reach you. Imagine that? I spent $13,000 on $40 ads. You do the math. I placed a lot of ads simultaneously in newspapers across the country, also referred to as an advertising blitz. Others opt to space out the charges and spend $1k-$2k a month, but I had already been trying to have a family for 2.5 years and was desperate to start.
  4. Use a Consultant. My lawyer advised that I work with an adoption consultant to place the Want Ads. They advised me of where to place the ads, based on demographics specifically lending themselves to adoption friendly states and statistics (generally lower income and religious
    who don’t believe in abortion).
  5. Market Yourself. During this process, you are also creating yourbook”. In it, you’ll include your story, how you like to spend your time and things that make you and your family unique. You should include plenty of pictures that illustrate how fabulous you are – because, you are!
  6. Woo the Birth Mother. Once you get “the call” and a potential birth mom feels a connection, let her get to know you and put her at ease. You don’t need to orchestrate grand gestures, I sent the BM sunflowers, to brighten her day. After the BM chooses you, you “date” for a little while. You are nice to each other, text and call each other, share pictures, stories and often go on doctors visits together.  For me, my story is a bit unusual and crazy because my adoption happened in just eight days (!), so my dating period was very short.

At the end of the day, it’s good to remember that these young women are often in crises, and they are confused, so anything you can do to show you are committed is welcome. It’s also important to realize that every story is different. I had the amazing blessing of being there for the birth of my daughter. I love that detail, and I feel fortunate to have it, but I know I would be just as attached to Julia if I didn’t get to experience her birth. My daughter is my daughter.  She is the love of my life. It sounds cliché, but she is my inspiration and muse, and I think that’s the greatest myth of all about adoption. People often wonder whether they can love a child that they didn’t give birth to. When I saw Julia come into this world, she took my breath away. Bottom line, you can, and will, love a child you didn’t give birth to.

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Paige, Sean & Aria via helpusadopt.org

Currently, I sit on the board of HelpUsAdopt.org, a wonderful organization that promotes, and supports adoption, by awarding life-changing grants to families so they can bring their children home. The cost of adoption is around $40k-$60k ,which is usually on top of the amount that a family has already spent on fertility. Since it’s launch in 2007, Helpusadopt.org has awarded over $1.7 million dollars in grants and helped to build 189 families. Helpusadopt.org remains the nation’s only adoption grant organization that doesn’t charge an application fee, awards life-changing grants (up to $15,000) and does not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender, marital status or sexual orientation. All you need to do is visit helpusadopt.org/apply, where you can download the application (this section of the site also has detailed information regarding the application process, deadlines, and FAQs).

Take it from me, if you want to have a family, adoption is a wonderful way to make your dreams come true. Mine did.

 

To learn more about Helpusadopt.org and the work that they do and get information about their annual fundraising event, click here.